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India eyes Bangladesh as market for range of military hardware

ByRezaul H Laskar and Rahul Singh
Jan 03, 2023 07:09 PM IST

During recent visits to India, Bangladesh Air Force personnel visited facilities where such aircraft are maintained, the people said. Bangladesh Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Shaikh Abdul Hannan, toured facilities in Chandigarh and Mumbai during a visit to India in December 2021

India is eyeing Bangladesh as a market for a range of military hardware, from specialist vehicles to helicopters, and maintenance of Russian-origin equipment following the operationalisation of a $500-million line of credit for defence purchases, people familiar with the matter said.

India’s defence exports reached its highest level during 2021-22, hitting <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>13,000 crore and the private sector accounted for 70% of exports (Reuters Photo)
India’s defence exports reached its highest level during 2021-22, hitting 13,000 crore and the private sector accounted for 70% of exports (Reuters Photo)

Among the items that Bangladesh has shown an interest in are specialist vehicles from Tata and Mahindra, Tejas combat aircraft and Dhruv light helicopter, the people said.

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Several vehicles were provided by the two Indian firms to the Bangladesh Army for testing over an extended period of time in different terrains and seasons, including during military exercises, the people added.

The two countries are also exploring the prospect of India’s role in maintaining Russian-origin equipment, especially aircraft such as the Mi-17-1V helicopter, Antonov An-32 transport aircraft and MiG-29 jets. India also operates these aircraft and has long-established facilities for their maintenance.

During recent visits to India, Bangladesh Air Force personnel visited facilities where such aircraft are maintained, the people said. Bangladesh Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Shaikh Abdul Hannan, toured facilities in Chandigarh and Mumbai during a visit to India in December 2021. Hannan also visited a helicopter unit in West Bengal during his latest visit to India last December.

“Bangladesh has purchased protective gear such as bulletproof jackets and helmets. Now both sides are looking at big ticket items,” one of the people cited above said.

While India offered the $500-million line of credit for defence purchases to Bangladesh in 2019, it was finally operationalised in September 2022 with a contract for what was described at the time by foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra as a “modest amount”. Briefing the media after a visit to India by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Kwatra said this contract was “an important first step” that will open up the path for further engagement in defence.

During Hasina’s visit, she and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed satisfaction at the “intensification” of defence ties and agreed on early finalisation of projects under the line of credit for defence, a joint statement said. India also “welcomed the finalisation of initial procurement plans for vehicles for the Bangladesh Armed Forces”, the joint statement added.

These developments come at a time when India has sharpened its focus on getting a toehold in foreign markets, setting a target of defence exports of $5 billion by 2025, and putting in place a raft of policy measures to boost indigenous defence manufacturing.

In November 2022, Indian defence firm Kalyani Strategic Systems Limited won an export order of $155.5 million for supplying artillery guns to a friendly foreign country, the first order by a local company for the weapon system.

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That order came on the back of the Philippines ordering BrahMos missiles and Armenia buying Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers from India. India has clocked defence exports of more than 30,000 crore since 2014 after the Modi government came to power.

India’s efforts also come at a time when China has been seeking to increase its role as a supplier of defence equipment, ranging from combat aircraft to warships and radars. In this context, the people noted that India has been pressing Bangladesh to implement a memorandum of understanding (MoU) inked in 2019 for providing a coastal radar system for maritime security.

India’s defence exports reached its highest level during 2021-22, hitting 13,000 crore and the private sector accounted for 70% of exports. Military hardware exported by India includes missiles, the Dhruv light helicopter, offshore patrol vessels, protective gear, surveillance systems and radars.

India has also imposed a phased import ban on 411 weapons and systems over the past two years to boost indigenous defence manufacturing. These weapons and platforms are to be indigenised over the next five to six years.

“India has a good strategy and action plan in place, backed by forward-looking policies, to ensure self-reliance in defence, and boost the country’s status as a net exporter of weapons in the coming years,” military affairs expert Lt Gen (retd) Vinod Bhatia earlier said.

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